Mortal Kombat - A Taste of Things to Come

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Description: On the island of the damned in the midst of the Lost Sea a gathering takes place. It is the commencement of the final Mortal Kombat tournament that will decide Earth's fate. Champions from Earth are summoned but their Divine Arbiter seems missing...

He sits on the throne as if he has done so for a thousand years.

How you join the gathering at the remote island is a matter of your own individual nature. Some got pulled through the realms by sorcery and unceremoniously dumped, naked and disoriented on the grounds of some dirty temple surrounded by men in dark hoods. Others got pulled in off the street, ensorcelled by some artifact or another or beaten and thrown across the back of a horse with two legs too many. Some, who wouldn't fight, were sent nothing more incendiary than a simple and politely worded missive requesting their attendance. To them, a boat ride.

All are gathered to the island. It is a place that has no location on any earthly map. A place that feels--to the supernaturally aware--as if it sits on the very precipice of the material realm itself. They are gathered here, regardless. That was yesterday.

Today, you are cleaned and dressed. Very few are allowed to be otherwise. Clothes are offered if none suitable avail themselves. Silk and fine cotton in equal sum form the selections of both, and there is no expense spared for any here. Those who arrive as bidden by the faceless servants of the island are greeted with a sumptuous banquet, laid out in grand tables to either side of the huge throne room, and beautiful dancers more exotic than Earthly wind and slip through one another, their sheer clothing whirling across one another in eerie, sensually fluid time to the soft music that winds throughout the hall.

With all of the exotic and relentlessly tasteful fare on display, it may be easy to disregard the line of armed and masked guards lined up on the edges of the throne room, the gentle night wind blowing past their robes. A quick count is trivial: there is at least one axe for every neck in attendance.

No real explanation avails itself, and very little can be found before the party. The most you are told is 'the sorcerer Shang Tsung wishes to have you at his banquet.' Even now, that man--at least, so it is assumed to be him--sits in regal observance of the goings on. For most's attendance to the affair, a simple enticement may be enough. For the rest, there is simply no other choice.

Shang Tsung drops Scene Set.

Mysterious minions in hooded robes are right up Zabel Zarock's alley. A sorceror requires his presence? He knows how these things go. If he just ignores it, then he'll have at best a persistent nuisance to deal with. Playing along, then, seems like the best deal. And hey... there's always the chance that he might be able to kill the guy, or perhaps snag some items of occult power.

And so he enjoyed a pleasant enough boat ride, politely ignoring the prickles of occult power he can feel running over his skin. For the moment he maintains his nominally human appearance, albeit with an extremely unhealthy pallor. He's availed himself of a robe of black silk stitched with silver dragons and a blood red lining, a pair of black cotton pants and not bothering with shoes. Temples, dark marble, dragons... The decor is also to his liking, though it could use some more skulls, really.

The banquet itself doesn't do a lot for Zabel, though he does cast the occasional appreciative glance at the dancers. Still, food and exotic beauties are far less interesting than the power that he can feel thrumming through the entire island, and even moreso here in this throne room. He tosses an exotic piece of fruit up in down in one hand for a moment before taking a bite, but his gaze remains steady in the direction of the throne. The guards lining the walls? Not even worth his time.

It takes quite a bit of pull and influence to reach a clan as secretive and hidden as the Lin Kuei. Many contracts and contacts are done via proxies and middlemen, almost never directly toward the Clan itself. Rarer still is it when such a contact requires immediate attention. But this...this is one of those rare moments. The name 'Shang Tsung' was one the clan knew, if by reputation more than anything. So refusing an invitation was simply not an option.

What was more surprising was who was chosen as the clan's representative for whatever the sorcerer had planned. Perhaps marking a shift in the clan's attitude, one of the more 'modern' generation of Lin Kuei was sent: a Motswana man dressed in black and yellow silks, bearing a crest precious few would recognize as that of the Lin Kuei. Adjusting this headband and adjusting his tightly braided hair, the warrior stood fast among the gathered, making sure not to offend any guard or make any stray movements that would offend the sorcerer...that doesn't mean he's simply here passively though. Even in isolation like this, technology has its uses, something Cyrax and his generation have long since tried to convince the clan to like the pinhole camera whose lens laid inset in the very center of the crest on the Lin Kuei's robe. After all, the Grandmaster will want confimation of what transpires here on this island...

The Ainu woman dressed in red silken finery answers to several names. The message was delivered to none of them -- but instead to the true name, known to few and spoken to none. With such potent knowledge offered so casually, the Scarlet Dahlia knew that the invitation was not one she had the opportunity to ignore.

The trip to the island was long and uneventful; her childhood having been spent as a deckhand upon a fishing boat, the Ainu was largely immune to the rise and fall of the front deck upon which she stood. But her professional white and black attire was ill-suited to an ocean voyage, demanding a change of wardrobe. She could have simply changed to another outfit of hers that was brought along for such a purpose, but upon seeing the wealth of options available, crimson silk laced with gold trim was the only reasonable option for a woman of her station. Rather than dragons, an intricate floral pattern weaves its way across her back and sides, while a more simplified represenation of a dahlia finds its way across her center. The Akatsuki advisor deserved the best, projecting regal bearing of an Imperial Chinese family. A gold and black medallion hangs around her neck with the crest of the Akatsuki.

Hanging upon the Dahlia's left hip is a three-sectioned staff, held tight with black ties. She makes no attempt to hide its presence -- for she stands among warriors, armed to defend herself as needed.

She stands near the buffet, a quaint plate of fruit, fish, and other sumptuous delicacies in one hand, as she watches the exotic beauties with a look of amusement. The Dahlia is quietly taking note of the others present -- the Zombie in black, silver, and red, and the Lin Kuei in black and yellow. But she makes no outward sign of her quiet observations, preferring to keep her gaze riveted on the ladies while her mind wanders about elsewhere. The only thing that might even set her apart from the other lovely ladies is the aura of absolute confidence projecting from her -- an aura that turns heads in a mix of fear and awe, even in full view of the guards and their exquisitely keen-edged axes.

For Aranha, it started with his visit to the hospital courtesy of the Martyr of Might. There was no money in his loss but when he came to he not only found out that his stay in the hospital was already paid for, but there was a business card with a number waiting for him.

A couple days later as he was about to be discharged from the hospital, an envelope shows up near his bedside. An invitation.

First and foremost, Aranha is a person who mainly relies on logic, as a fighter, as a traceur, and as a cat burglar. Sometimes, gut instinct is just too powerful to ignore. And right now, that gut instinct was telling him he /needed/ to be here. As logical as he was, he knew that his life and his sisters lives were saved too many times by his intuition to toss it aside.

The invitation mentioned a boat and so he prepared. Duffle bag with at least weeks worth of clothes, tools of the trade and his Oakley Thumps for listening to music on the go.

Fast forward to today. Aranha is now sitting in this banquet hall in a loose fitting white cotton tunic and white cotton slacks. Sometimes it's hard to resist the capoeira traditions of wearing white. The spider web motif bandana he wears on his head is the only visible break from that tradition.

He sees no reason project too much of a presence. For now, he's here to observe for the sake of the Full Moon Society.

The presence of Shang Tsung was profound.

Sorcerer is a title that many have held, few have earned over the history of the world. For a sorcerer to invite someone like Eadni, well, the presence of Eadni would be profound as well. The invitation for the witch was formal and curt, precise to the location of the witch. Her acceptance was equally formal. Her arrival was... on her own terms. She would not be forced here, nor would she take something as mundane as a boat.

No, the witch's arrival comes in only the way that she would come.

The earth moans as the earth begins to break some distance from the court of Shang Tsung, within the midsts of the island forestry. The form of a hut rips up from below. Rising high from deep below, the long chicken legs of the hut stand tall for but a moment, before dipping low. The front door opens, and almost slithering out, was the withered form of an hunched over woman. Hands trembling, the hut straightens up behind her, before sinking back into the earth. The old crone, bound in rags of woad and earth tan, moves towards the court of the walls, the invitation clutched between her fingers. She presents her token, and it does not take long before she arrives at the table, hardly showing any concern as she takes her seat at the banquet table. She was silent for now, showing no flourish for her dramatic arrival. For now, she would sit at this sorcerer's table. Watch. And wait.

All with a grandmotherly smile at the corners of her wrinkled lips.

It's hard to say -why- Alexis Lovell ended up here, but the -how- of it had nothing to do with polite requests nor her consent and everything to do with sorcerous transit and the consequences thereof. Drawn from a bathroom stairwell while returning to a night of drinking in a Canadian bar, Alexis' disappearance may well be written off for the moment as some alcohol-induced escapade by any but her closest friend.

The right to protest is one held dearly by the Canadian punk, and one that she's exercised every step of the way: from her 'au naturel' arrival at the dirty temple to being bathed and clothed afterward. Perhaps surprisingly, the latter was the most contested point; after all, it involved the imposition of fashion tastes other than her own on her person.

As has been the case with most protests she's been a part of, her efforts have largely been ineffectual: like the others, she's ended up at the banquet, dressed in a purple outfit that, owing either to modification or the local aesthetic, would be considered a touch risque by Earthly society's standards, yet manages to appear far more tasteful than her usual attire.

Alexis' typically vocal dissent has largely been silenced today through the sheer awe of the situation (and, while she may be hesitant to admit it, the state of armament of the host's guards). Seated amongst strangers at one of the tables with a plate of food going completely ignored in front of her, the Canadian peers out at the rest of the occupants of the throne room from behind her long bangs, any sentiment but displeasure masked by a perpetual frown.

It was starting to seem as if the the heir of the Yagami bloodline was one of the only ones who didn't come of his own choosing. That, however, was fitting. Iori Yagami didn't like to go with the flow, after all.

There was a sudden crack, space was rent open before his very eyes, and before he could so much as spark his flame in preperation of what he was sure was an incoming fight, the angry youth was hauled bodily from the streets and deposited before the line of hooded men. To say he did not go quietly would be an understatement, but he was quickly subdued and bundled off to be pampered against his will.

By the time the feast rolls around, his temper has settled significantly as he sulks in a corner. The offered clothes aren't exactly his taste, but he made do with an impromptu coat formed from the ripped remains of a dark cloak tossed over a white, open collar tunic and a pair of bright red pants. He keeps glancing from the lines of armed guards to the other assembled 'guests,' paying particular attention to Alexis and any others who look as unhappy to be here as he is.

When the world prepares to break through to some new state, it seems almost inevitable that Ryu Hayabusa will find his way there.

In this particular case, however, a message arrived at the Hayabusa Curio Shop at the base of Mt. Fuji that managed to draw his attention. The Ninja Master had been summoned to an island that had allowed itself to be missed by most of history. The message itself showed all the signs of being more than simply an attempt to get Hayabusa to make a television appearance.

Arriving via boat without a single word uttered the entire trip, and clad in the iconic Black Falcon with Ryuken, the Dragon Sword, sheathed on his back. He ate little of the banquet, but his eyes feasted on the sights, seeming to absorb everything around him while the man himself offered nothing in return.

She was neither invited nor retrieved. No proof of access provided, nor would it be possible to cite when, exactly, she entered the grand hall. One would simply notice that she now occupied a spot at one of the tables. Was she always there or did the small statured individual simply find a blind spot in the room's collective attention to take her place at the feast? A plate of food sits untouched in front of her as she peeks out from beneath a mostly concealing hood, grey-blue eyes glancing over the occupants of the hall one at a time.
It would be hard to discover much about her for most of the quiet figure is concealed beneath a hooded cloak that she has wrapped around herself. The fabric is pristine white except for a distinctive red geometric pattern along the border of it and it is large enough to completely conceal all but her face and red moccasin-clad feet from view. Black strands of raven-black hair are visible around the edges of the hood and a pair of silver-blue eyes peek out from its shadows to survey the occupants of the room. Occasionally Nakoruru's shoulders rise and fall, the sound of a quiet sigh escaping her lips, but otherwise, the figure draped in white seems content to observe alone.

No one has been disarmed. The only requisite for patronage to the fine banquet is that you be relatively dressed for the occaision--if not in the best fineries made available, at least in a martial artist's best. To that end, the guards look as if one by themselves might be simple enough to beat for many here, but they all stand eerily still, the eptiome of discipline. Taking out all of them would be a poor proposition indeed for anyone with poor aims.

There is something eerie about the island--technology, as some of the more forward-looking have found, is simply hard to keep running here. Compasses spin incessantly, phones get no reception. Radio signals may or may not get out, depending on where and when. A recording device is simple enough in operation--not all technology is failing, but it does introduce a solid doubt of the record surviving the island, or even the trip home. Steps may need to be taken.

For the rest, there is a sort of supernatural heady feeling suffusing the island. It makes everything seem just a little bit like a dream. From the dancers, to the taste of the food--it all seems something hyperreal, contributing to some arcane spell woven through the mind and the will.

The event continues for some time through the day, and polite conduct is mostly enforced by guard, if nothing else. And to that end, the sorcerer seems content to observe passively the goings on. Though he dresses immaculately and it is doubtful that even a single mote of dusk settles on his skin, his stare is like a hawk that mistakenly dove into oil. Filthy, sharp, beyond dangerous.

Still he rises from his throne. And as he does, so too does he gesture for silence. With that, the music does not immediately stop. No, the players of the reed and keys subside with tactful gentility, the song ebbing and flowing to an end, with enough excess left aside to allow the nubile retinue of exotic dancers to trail away gracefully to the fringes of the crowd as willows in the breeze. Sheer silks wind their way through, leaving scents of bergamot and myrrh to sting and soothe the senses in equal measure.

There is a certain theatricality about it all.

The sorcerer with the unnatural gaze takes only one step's descent from his throne. He stands on the fifth, five steps higher than everyone else, and high enough that he may take in everyone collected before him. They are a motley crew, renegades and conspirators all. It pleases him.

Though there is a sense that someone like the sharp-eyed Asian mystic should sneer, there is a certain care taken in every action, and he is nothing, if not gracious. One of his servants announces him. 'Silence. Shang Tsung will now speak.'

The sorcerer's hands clap together once briefly, before they disappear inside of the voluminous folds of his robes, disappearing behind his back.

"Welcome all. I trust you have filled yourselves to your liking, and made good use of the amenities we offer. I am Shang Tsung, the organizer of all that you see before you, and all that will transpire in the coming days. I have gathered you here today to offer my hospitality in recognition of services yet rendered. You have been chosen. For a tournament that is not hinged on great riches and vast wealth to which many of you have become accustomed. It is a tournament that is arbited over by the Gods themselves. You, amongst others, have all been chosen to represent the realm of Earth in a tournament called Mortal Kombat."

To this end, Shang Tsung allows a moment to fill the space between words, and in this moment, he surveys. Not a single reaction will escape his eye, and even the slightest skepticism will be treated to a glance that looks through everything you've ever done with your life.

"I should hope this strikes you with the appropriate...gravity if you will. The Elder Gods have compelled me to speak on their behalf in lieu of a proper representative. The prior representative of Earth has been subdued by circumstances beyond their control, and so the task naturally falls to my hand. Of course, I cherish the chance to speak for both sides, as it were."

A thin smile is offered by the sorcerer.

"Given the tragic circumstance, I regret any rough treatment you may have received on your journey here."

Cyrax is well aware of the heady nature of the entire spectacle. Even with honed senses from a literal lifetime of warrior training, his attention falters from the atmosphere fogged with intoxication of all sorts.

This is perhaps one reason why he eats precious little. He eats enough not to insult the host's charity, but avoiding too much in case the food itself is just as intoxicating as the air. After all, you can only do so much without having to fall back on personal instinct and judgement. Even with that precaution, he can only be wary of so much...particularly the old witch and the shambling, walking corpse. He takes special care to try and have them in his hidden camera's sight if he can, until Shang TSung finally speaks.

Attention fully turned toward the sorcerer, the Lin Kuei's lips are drawn into a thin scowl, brow furrowed at the announcement. The name is familiar, a whisper spoken within the Clan before. The details, however, have never been privy to the Motswana...and now here he is, in the midst of it.

That recording better stay intact...even if Cyrax has accepted the possibilty of it failing in such a charged atmosphere, it's too valuable to not capture as much as he can.

Shang Tsung drops Scene Rules.

As he glances about at the various warriors and foods, the Dancing Spider attempts to gauge the temperaments of those around him, whether not specific people look like they're pleased to be here or if they weren't happy. It gave him an idea of who could possibly be allies or potential people who could be used to run interference.

A small gurgle of his stomach is audible those right next to him. It was time to listen to his body and grab some more food. He turns to the person who happens to be sitting to his right and softly speaks to them. "Hey could you pass..."

Aranha never quite gets to finish that request before the announcement is made that the Sorceror will speak. Whatever food item he was going to ask for falls into the ether as he devotes himself to giving this his undivided attention.

Overseen by the gods? As Shang Tsung continues to speak, the capoeirista begins to make connections to what Nightwolf had spoke of in defense of 'Earthrealm' as he put it. He had no idea what he was getting into when on a figurative level, he signed on the dotted line. The things he would do to look after the well being of his sisters.

Zabel spends the banquent at his seat, mostly reclining in what looks like a casual manner. He does occasionally take his gaze away from Shang Tsung to observe the other guests, offering Alexis a quick wink when he notices her, but otherwise paying them fairly little heed. He can feel some interesting power around the room, but the being in the throne is overshadowing them. And although the spell isn't quite as effective on Zabel as it probably is on the others, he can still feel effects from it, resulting in a meal that he can enjoy more than many he's had in some time, so he doesn't hold back. As the sorceror gestures for silence and the music begins quieting down, Zabel tosses aside a bit of food in one hand. It fails to hit the floor, as a shadow swirls for a moment and then a flash of purple snatches the falling morsel before merging into the shadow again in the blink of an eye.

A representative of the Elder Gods, now? Zabel has done more than a little occult research, as evidenced by his current form, so he knows of a few possibilities for what Shang Tsung might be referring to. All of them quite... interesting. As for a tournament, well, Zabel doesn't have anything pressing on his plate at the moment, so why not? A grin crosses his face, but he waits for the sorceror to get to the details in his own time. These types often seem to be touchy about getting interrupted.

The Scarlet Dahlia sips quietly from a goblet filled with a ruddy-colored wine: slightly tart, to judge from her reception. She has had plenty of time to enjoy her food -- it's the personalities of those around her which interest her most. A veritable rogue's gallery... The Canadian rocker with whom her juggler alter-ego is well-acquainted, as well as the zombie Zabel she had seen earlier. The red-coiffed bass player with a surly attitude. The traceur, heralded as the Champion of the dark Majigen Series -- as well as the earthen witch who was infamous for twisting the Metro Bridge into a wretched, tangled mess that led to its eventual condemnation. And, of course, the leader of Team Ninja, who she had most recently enjoyed watching within the King of Fighters tournament.

Everyone fits here -- someone with a streak of arrogance, or ill will -- except the hooded young woman she knows next to nothing about. No recent data has availed itself to the Akatsuki advisor -- nothing that would suggest her origin at all.
Nothing, that is, except tales of ancient legend. A familiar presence -- one that calls to her on an altogether -different- level than anyone else here.

The Dahlia in red silken finery finds herself gravitating towards Nakoruru -- the one least likely to recognize the woman's more public persona. Her plate is nigh empty; she sets it upon a table as she crosses over towards the hooded woman, swishing the ruddy fluid around her goblet as she approaches. She begins to speak, in the rough and tribal tones of the Ainu language: "<< Well, I would never have expected to see someone like you here...>>"

Further discourse from the Dahlia is staven off by the tones of the guards demanding silence. The Dahlia glowers -- but only for a moment -- as she realizes the true import of such a statement. The liquid swishes around again, and the Dahlia enjoys another sip as her eyes fall upon the Asian features of Shang Tsung... while the psion's focus remains upon the spirit of the hooded woman to her right.

Mortal Kombat, considers the Dahlia... A challenge worthy of the hardy souls gathered here. But is it, she wonders, truly as -mortal- as the words imply, or is it merely a colorful epithet, as applied to so many other decidedly tame tests of strength?

She considers posing the question directly to Nakoruru, but concedes to avoid interrupting their gracious host, sparing only another querying glance her way instead.

Off on one table sits Cooper, the mercenary having arrived by boat like many others. One doesn't get far in his line of work by ignoring invitations. Invitations meant jobs and jobs mean money. Banquets mean money, too. No, there was no fuss getting the man to the island. The only hitch was getting him to wear something other than his usual garb, to which he made small concessions with a pair of cotton pants and a silk, sleeveless shirt (which he will no doubt try to abscond with).

For most of the banquet he's muttering to himself, his thick Aussie accent only getting worse as he continues to drink, mostly from his hip flask. In fact, a keen observer might notice he only picks at the food and drink present, not really trusting anything laid before him and offered for free. Paranoia is a wonderful thing. In fact, the only thing in the room that truly seems to hold his interest for more than a passing glance (or a passing leer in some places) is the host. And so, when the man begins to speak, Cooper's full attention is focused like a lazer on the so-called sorcerer. But the right to represent Earth? He has to supress a snort. 'Who cares?' Is the thought. No, he's waiting for the mention of a prize.

The Hayabusa Clan had fought to protect the Earth from all manner of threats over thousands of years. Ryu Hayabusa himself had battled threats that were considered gods, or Greater Fiends by his own estimation. He had even managed to defeat the threat that the Arch Fiend had posed to the world. With the power of Shinryuken in his hands, these dark threats had been a challenge he had struggled against and yet overcome.

The Elder Gods were a different matter.

The Hayabusa clan had little to do with matters related to the Elder Gods in the past. For the most severe threats, a single warrior, his blood flowing with the Dragon Lineage, could stand to defeat them. The Elder Gods were not themselves evil, although there was evil among them. The threat all of this posed was that of arbitration.

The rule of Immortal Law was not one that Hayabusa was trained to defeat.

To the outside world, there is at most a brief flicker of understanding as his eyes go wide before the Ninja Master's expression returns to an intense patience.

A new person wanders into the room, pausing in the doorway to observe the amassed individuals present. The somewhat small woman stares at each person for a moment as she moves to take a seat at the first available opening, her gaze seeming to almost pass through them. She tilts her head slightly at some of them, her stare lingering a moment longer. Maybe she recognizes them from somewhere..... or maybe she's just a little off. Who can tell?

It was an unusual occurance for Lotus. One moment she's in the middle of finishing off a job, when suddenly a sack went over her head, and everything went dark! Next thing she knows, she is one some strange boat, bored out of her mind as it sailed to it's destination. Now, whatever annoyance she had is gone at the prospects of what is present at this location.....

All of Lotus' gear, weapons, and clothes were intact (and bloodstain-free of all things!), so why NOT play along! Could be...... fun.

She hears Shang Tsung speak as she enters, her stare resting on him for the time being as she eats strips from her claimed dinner.....

Alexis' gaze eventually happens upon Zabel - it's hard not to notice the zombie rocker sooner or later. The presence of at least one person she can recognize is enough to convince her that the food here might be safe to eat, and when she finally tucks into her meal, she does so with ravenous intent.

She catches Iori looking at her out of the corner of her eye while she's in the midst of feeding. Under the intense young man's observation, she suddenly becomes reticent again, punctuating the meal with a sip of whatever beverage is being served so that she can hide behind her cup and compose herself. She hears someone to her left asking that she pass something while she's trying too hard to be casual, and her eyes shift toward Aranha, one eyebrow raising questioningly.


Her voice reverberates in the interior of her cup before she sets it back down on the table and raises one of her bare arms to dry her lips. The exchange is interrupted, of course, when Shang Tsung draws the attention of all present to speak.

"Mortal Kombat? Lame," she scoffs under her breath at the revelation of the tournament's name. More disappointing, though she doesn't comment on it, is the implied lack of prize money for the event. Her eyes begin to search for any sign of cameras, hidden or otherwise: this has to be some kind of reality television stunt, right?

The others were curiouser and curiouser.

The presence of the sorcerer was troubling. An emissary, was he? And of the Elder Gods? Eadni was quiet for the moment, but behind her eyes was a building tension. When Shang Tsung gives those two words, something stirs in the hag. Her eyes drift from the figure, casting on each one around. And for a moment, it transfixes on Nakoruru. A nod comes, as drifts to the Dahlia, to Ryu Hayabusa, to Zabel, to Aranha, to each figure, piece by piece. These were the champions? The glances come back to Shang Tsung.

And the witch finally raises her voice.

"I find it curious that the Elder Gods have seen that they have the authority to appoint a representative of Earth itself, Shang Tsung." The witch states firmly, clasping her hands. "As well as feeling the need to... test its inhabitants. Mortal Combat. The tournament to the death is not simply for the entertainment of outsiders. I recall similar events, Shang Tsung, with similar puppets at their helms, in the distant past." The dismissal was intentional. The crone's lips were still curled into the faintest smile, as she gives an almost grandmotherly accusation in her tone.

"This wouldn't be a precursor to anything, would it, Sorcerer?"

Sulking is certainly one of Iori's favorite pasttimes, and he's not going to be lured out of doing so by the presence of food. No, what finally draws him out is the promise of combat and the claim that each of those gathered were chosen to represent Earthrealm. Immediately, his gaze scans the group, no longer a passive glance, but instead an active search. He's looking for someone, someone who isn't here. Sorcerers and divine tournaments aside, something was starting to smell incredibly fishy to the Yagami. Where was that damned Kusanagi, and why did this whole thing suddenly remind him so thoroughly of Orochi?

Another glance is spared to the guards lined up on either side of the hall, and then another searching for disatisfied faces. This time, at least, he didn't have to search long. It seems he wasn't the only one who wasn't entirely drawn in by the Sorcerer's words just yet...

It might just be coincidence that the hooded girl bows her head as the Scarlet Dahlia draws near, rendering all but her chin concealed by the shadow of the cloak. The crimson patterns bordering the otherwise snowy white cloth would likely strike the Dahlia as familiar - alternating blocks of large and small rectangular strips of red with narrow lines of white left to separate them.
The concealed girl doesn't respond at all at first as the Shadow Advisor ends up close by. But when spoken to, her head lifts slightly, lips exposed to the ambient light of the feasting hall while the rest of her face continues to be hidden. Seconds slip by without further response beyond her initial reaction - stunned by surprise, perhaps? Finally, she answers, her tone solemn, her comfort with the Ainu language leaving no question regarding fluency. "<< For now, there is no place more important to be at. And no place more dangerous. >>"
From beneath the right side of her cloak, where the two ends of the large fabric met, her right arm slips free, lifting to tug at the side of the hood to draw it in a little tighter over her lower face just as the master of the ceremonies finally addresses all gathered. Only then does the quiet Ainu lift her face, attentive eyes taking in the sight of the host behind this most curious of gatherings.
"<< You will see. >>" she murmurs softly.
The address is begun, leaving all the room to consider this newly provided information. But Nakoruru's attention shifts to the one who dares to be the first to address the sorcerer following his declaration. Even after the timeless creature's question hangs in the air, she doesn't take her eyes off of her to see how the baiting inquiry is answered. The gifted Dahlia would would have no trouble sensing the tension building in the soft spoken girl.

At mention of 'tournament to the death', Lotus slowly tilts her head sideways to look at Eadni. After a moment, she begins to.... smile? She pops another strip of chicken into her mouth as she listens further..... this just got MUCH more fun!

Tsung's gaze is by reflexive nature withering, but Shang Tsung is mostly pleased by the reception. Shinobi and capoeirista alike knew what lay before them when they saw it. Having to educate clowns and skeptics was taxing to his patience. The limits of such as easily detected as his oil soaked stare briefly alights on Alexis in the midst of her sotto voce dismissal. He doesn't say anything, as a gentleman may, but it makes it hard to really tell exactly how much the sorcerer knows and how sensitive his hearing actually is. Even a glance can tell a story. The thought is abandoned, for want of reason. There is much to do, and wonder is a blade better wielded than beheld.

Hands still clasped firmly behind back, Shang Tsung allows the silence to string the harp for as long as is needed. If nothing else, he is patient. There is a lone voice in the crowd, wondering aloud the credibility of the Elder Gods, and not even an ounce of irritation shows in the sorcerer's face as the witch questions him. He is the image of patience. He waits for her to finish her thought aloud, and waits to see if any other will speak to it. Only when he is satisfied with everyone's attention does the sorcerer continue, without a trace of anything but the most gracious of invitation all but dripping from his voice.

"An excellent question, though I do not dare presume to speak for powers higher than my own. But there is a dearth of others to choose, sadly. As the only remaining steward of Kombat," he says, putting a particular emphasis on the word, "it naturally falls to me to be the guidepost. But you are correct. Mortal Kombat is a tournament that has been held since the first years were written on the map. It is as old as fighting itself. And it is the honor the Elder Gods have chosen to resolve marked grievance between worlds. The gods are gracious to give all of you the chance to participate."

Shang Tsung speaks as a sidewinder stalks, and it is hard to get a meaningful grip on anything he says for sure, to understand truly what it is he means when he speaks and what he actually is supposed to be. Only the next words are clear.

"But the choice of men is important, and there is much the next world offers to you, if you only reach out to grasp it. Endless riches and servants as far as the eye can see. If there are those among us who remember previous Kombats, they will realize change is inevitable, and the world you know is in the throes of its final years. If you embrace what comes after the world you know, kings will envy you. For the rest of you... the gods have seen fit to make you nothing less than the last guardians of Earth itself." He grins faintly at Eadni. "A precursor, if it pleases you."

"...Held against total subjugation by the next world."

"But I digress." This time, Tsung does not wait.

"You may consider this a formal beginning. It is one of my many duties to unveil for you the final grace the gods have offered you, to whet your appetite for something more. Such is what you deserve. There will be no mercy in the world that you are entering, and death is behind every corner. So I ask you..."

He unfolds his hands, and claps twice. As he does, there is an audible groan of stone from beyond the veil. The curtains and screens slide away from one end of the throne room, and a massive dragon statue cut entirely from formed jade is lifted in, moved with no small amount of effort by a score of men with arms thicker than Alexis' thigh. As they move, Shang Tsung descends the steps with further preeminence, dark satisfaction crossing his expression as briefly as the eclipse.

"Who amongst you today is the bravest?" The sorcerer asks loudly. "Who will be the first to fight.. and perhaps even be the first to fall? It is time for a formal demonstration of the gods' mercies, and a taste of things to come."

"Watch your tongue, witch, and show respect for your better!" comes the words from Cyrax, the Lin Kuei finally speaking for the first time since his arrival, seeing it as the insult to their host as was apparently intended. He holds his tongue though as Shang Tsung deigns to respond personally.

His brow furrows as the sorcerer windw through his explanation. This is about the point where being more informed by the Clan's elders about Mortal Kombat and Shang Tsung himself would have been helpful. But as the sorcerer declares 'a taste of things to come', the warrior finds himself too uneased to immediately respond. This is moving fast...and the best thing to do might be to step back and let it develop without any further input.

The intricate geometric patterning on the robes had, of course, been the reason that the Akatsuki advisor had first sought out Nakoruru -- and it seems that her intutive guess was correct. She was counseled as to the grander meaning of the tournament as clearly as if she -had- asked the question so pressing upon her mind. The warning seems... brusque, perhaps out-of-place, but it is received with her lips pressed into a light frown, her head nodding slowly.

The patron of this tournament commands the red-clad Ainu's attention -- though that frown does lift up at the arrogance of the earth witch. She watches Shang Tsung intently, pleased at the manner in which he calmly answers the defiant charge in a manner most befitting of the host's station.

To say nothing of the riches and the power promised. It is... an enticing offer, the power to alter the course of the world. But it is likely a devil's bargain, intertwined with the hint of a latent and burgeoning threat to all mankind. All giving the truth to Nakoruru's prophetic words.

The Scarlet Dahlia dips her head towards Nakoruru. There will be time to talk. But for now, the Akatsuki advisor opts against speaking up -- jumping headlong into danger when she has little idea about its form is... not really her style. She will stand and wait for now, while helping herself to a refill of wine.

When Aranha hears the crone speak up, it brings up a nod. It was a question that needed answering and while he suspected what answers he would be hearing, he didn't know for certain. Plus there were people here who he was sure didn't have any idea what was going on. They needed it spelled out. How the hag posed the question also gave him more information about her and would yield more information about the sorceror himself.

Little did Aranha know that the question posed would reveal more about the other participants. One in particular, Cyrax tells the hag to show respect for her better and it then lets the capoeirista know where he in particular stands with Shang Tsung. Shang Tsung, however, handles the witch's commentary with calm and gives a response that if not clarifies, brings a step closer to clarity. Choices are simple. Join or be forced to bend knee to the occupying force held off only by this tournament that's about to take place. He didn't like those options when Jedah laid them before him after the Majigen Series and he doesn't like them now with Shang Tsung laying those options before him right now.

Then there's the announcement that one of them would fight now. Aranha doesn't stand to volunteer. Information is power. He doesn't a huge public fighting profile. Unless they were familiar with the his fights during the Majigen Series, the attempt at fighting Nightwolf for his belt, or his various bouts in underground fight venues, he would remain a mostly unknown quantity. And he'd rather it would stay that way until it was time to fight.

That being said, he's not so stupid that he didn't realize the possibility that he'd get volunteered. He was not inclined to fight on an empty stomach, and had no plans on weighing himself down with heavy foods so he turns to Alexis once more.

"Could you pass me the fish, and bread?"

Ensorcelled food be damned, he needed to make sure he wasn't starving if he was to fight.

The call is ans

The call for a volunteer is made. an a

A call for a volunteer is made. The answer comes in a clear basso profundo that is familiar to at least one person in attendance.
"I will," Zach Glenn, former Marine, errant monster hunter, calls out. His trip to the island started in Tibet. He had arrived at the monestary to learn what he could learn, to find the monks who called thr place home held hostage by a score of people in hooded cloaks. The fact that he could not, for the life of him (and the monks), get a read psychically or otherwise from these beings unnerved Zach enough that he went with them without hassle.
As things unfolded, things became more clear. This could be that thing Raiden had mentioned. Zach's path was fairly clear. Stand. Fight. Win if he could and make his defeat costly if he could not.
The man is wearing a fine silk suit, tailored in black and scarlet. He does not appear to be carrying any weaponry as he stands from his seat down the table.

There is one other, clad all in black and watching from the shadows. His eyes milky-white, his garb nondescript and designed not to draw attention to himself. With his arms crossed he studies everything critically, but says nothing to bring attention to himself.

Not until the time was right.

Daniel Jack's invitation was... given from the Chief.

After his except from the clutches of Russia by what could very well be his new partner Charlie Nash, Daniel Jack returned to Interpol HQ, expecting the Chief to yell at him, pound his fist, talk about how he failed. But no. In fact, the Chief just was very polite. He said "Agent Little, there is something we want to tell you. General Zima has spoken to us, and we have good reason to believe that there is going to be a serious incident about to happen. Now dammit Daniel, you are the right man for the job. And this is a job for you. Fortunately, we just got in contact with a strong lead. So you are going to go to where this lead is. It's another tournament. You're invited." And about this time, The Chief was making a vague gesturing motion to someone behind Daniel.

And then Daniel Jack was hit on the back of the head.

Daniel Jack wakes up, dressed in his Interpol Greys, inside a dark, wooden cage, barely big enough for him to fit. He didn't know how long her was knocked out. But everything smelled like copper. There is a heft, as suddenly, he finds himself lifted up, and into the light. He was in a courtyard, a courtyard of everyone. Ryu Hayabusa was there. Zach was emerging out, accepting a challenge. The dark-skinned detective blinks his eyes, as the top of the cage is pulled out, and Daniel was unceramoniously dumped out by a pair of Shang Tsung guards, as the strange bearded man announces the challenge. Who was going to be brave enough to face the first challenge? Who was going to be? Daniel knew exactly what he should say.

"What the hell?"

The detective staggers up, staring around at all these people. At all these things. "Where am I? What happened? How did I-" And Daniel Jack narrows his eyes at the table.

"Is that a -buffet?!-"

There are a number of faces in the crowd which could draw the attention of the Scarlet Dahlia. There are a number of people she knows, and even more she has not had the pleasure of meeting, such as the avatar of flaming skeletons, and a mercenary or two. Unfortunately, there are also a number of people she would rather not bump into, lest they accidentally recognize the shadowy woman. She adjusts the thin-framed glasses upon her nose, but the disguise will not fool Zach Glenn -- someone who has every possible reason to single out the peculiar psychic aura as belonging to someone who does not normally dress on the red side of the color wheel. Nor is her face so different in this getup that the Interpol sleuth couldn't intuit a connection to the -other- 5'5" Ainu woman who would be happy to see him rot in the bottom of a well.

The woman with the scarlet and gold dress tips her head towards Nakoruru in acknowledgement, quietly stating, "<< Indeed... we shall see... >>", as she raises the goblet of blood-red fluid to her lips.

It's at that moment that Zach deigns to speak up.
And she finds it difficult to enjoy that sip from the cough that suddenly chooses to erupt from her throat.

The Dahlia chooses this time to turn away from the crowd in search of a napkin. They do have napkins at this buffet, yes?

After a moments thought about Shang Tsung and his words, Lotus casually pushes herself to her feet. She doesn't say anything specific, merely stands there smiling, humming happily to herself. Ripping a chunk out of the turkey leg she's holding, she looks back up at Shang, turkey flesh dangling from her mouth a moment before she devours it. She slowly eyes the rest of the room and its occupants as she waits to hear his decision of whom shall be picked.

Having been forwarded one of the invitations to this event by her superiors, Sergeant Cassie Cage was one of the lucky ones capable of being picked up by some leaky boat with all of her luggage. She was also one of the first to discover that even after you get a satellite connection for your cellphone (theoretically so she could report back to the bosses at Special Forces) and start raising a fit.

Partially to keep up the cover for the public eye that she's little more than the brash, mouthy cousin of Johnny Cage. But also because taking a weekend off from Twitter and Fightagram means she's going to have to figure out a good way to go loud on her online presence to make up for lost time later.

As for the event itself...

The big problem with formal attire for someone like Cassie Cage is that there's a tendency to assume that it's going to be something like a big flowing red carpet gown or something risque that will end up in all the tabloids. Those tends not to have pockets to carry your cellphone or store bubble gum.

Also guns tend to clash with the lines a bit.

Well, no reason not to go black tie.

The younger Cage has shown up with a black suit jacket lined with bright red, marking the lapels, pockets, and the sleeves that end at her elbows. A black bowtie is set at the neck of a formal shirt whose sleeves have been rolled back just beyond the jacket's. The rest of the outfit would match a proper formal look if not for the bright red tops of her shoes, the fingerless gloves pulled over her hands, and the pair of pistols strapped in over the suit jacket.

And of course, topping it all off, are a pair of shades that are probably worth a few hundred dollars.

As the sorceror makes his call out to the assembled crowd, Cassie Cage is one of the first to stand, her voice loud and clear. "Hey, Lo Pan! If I kick the ass of whatever wannabe chosen one you've got behind door number 2, will you unlock your fucking WiFi?"

Well, that jade dragon certainly catches Cooper's attention. One can almost see him trying to calculate just how much that beauty must be worth, practically licking his lips as his eyes refuse to leave the gleaming stone statue. There's a brief flickering moment where he hopes that's the prize, only to come to the realization it's a ceremonial piece, which just works his aggrevation up even more. And still no mention of what the pot at the end of the rainbow might contain.

He listens to the speech in relative silence, now finally eating the food once it's clear no one is keeling over dead in the middle of the banquet. At least not yet, and not from food.

The call for volunteers causes him to perk up, he grabs his glass of liquor, scoots his chair back a bit from the table, and soundly... refuses to get his butt up out of the seat.

Nope. Nothing in it for him, yet.

Cooper just tilts his chair back on two legs, rather rudely puts his bare feet up on the table, and sips at his alcohol with barely a care in the world. Who the hell invited him, anyway? Oh right.. that sorcerer guy.

The young woman concealed beneath the white hooded cloak sits quietly throughout the proceedings. Only by the movements of her head can one tell she is paying attention to all of the events playing out throughout the lavish banquet. Occasionally her right hand lifts from beneath her cloak to tug at the corners of her hood in order to afford her a better peek at the various individuals of note. A number rise when the request for a champion is made but she shows no such inclination, mostly hidden eyes flicking toward the Earthen Matron for a long moment.
Out of those who stood, one is called, and finally Nakoruru's attention falls to the first representative of those gathered. Another tug at her hood gives her a better view of the bold, perhaps reckless soul who seems to have already forgotten the name of their host. Her dress is curiously manly, and her challenge comes with a condition that leaves the laconic Ainu blinking once before reluctantly tilting her head toward the only one she knows speaks her native tongue, another question offered in the shared language that comes easiest to her. "<< Ah... what is the wifi...? >>" Only then does she notice that the Scarlet Dahlia has turned her attention decidedly elsewhere all of the sudden, distracted by an onset of coughing.
Expecting she won't get her answer, she lowers her hand back beneath her cloak and shifts her attention back toward Cassie Cage. So brash. Does she not sense the risk? Or does she, like other audacious heroes she's known before, simply not care?

Zach hears a sputtering cough, just as Cassie makes her entrance. The psion throws a glance in the coughing person's direction when he senses something... familiar. His eyes narrow as he reaches out mentally and finds something very different from what he was expecting. He turns from the dias, figuring that Cassie has pretty much gotten the attention of Shang Tsung, and heads over to the seat Honoka just vacated. He looks Nakoruru over appraisingly, realising some things.

He stops just short of the young woman, completely unsure of what to make of her. Calling his grasp of the Ainu weak would be a massive understatement. He did, however, make it a point to learn of a couple of phrases that would facilitate conversation. <<I'm sorry. I did not understand what you just said,>> Zach says in halting, just barely understandable Ainu.

The jade statue that is easily twice as wide as a man and potentially three times that height must be a titanic weight indeed. But the servants who haul the huge artpiece in do so coolly and without complaint. There is no imperfection when they set the massive piece of mason-jewellery down in the center of the lower floor, opposite the side where Shang Tsung's throne lay. With the dancers having vacated the space, it leaves most of the throne room's marble flooring open, most of the food, guard, entertainers and banquet tables taking up the periphery. It is conspicuously empty, save for that dominatingly huge presence overlooking it. The weight of kings.

Of which Shang Tsung is perfectly comfortable styling himself as for the time being.

At the foot of the steps leading up to his throne, the sorcerer's robes shift as he stills, the shining Chinese embroidery reflecting silvery beams from the light outside. Slowly, the asian clasps his hands together graciously. He doesn't need to speak or gesture for his bearing servants to find their place back behind the curtains from whence they came. This leaves him with the somewhat dubious pleasure of selecting amongst those who would stand.

Perfect. Many here think they understand what is to befall them.

As always, it's the loudest of all that step forward that receive the greatest sum of the sorcerer's attention. To this one, Shang Tsung gives the most silken of smiles.

"There are many brave among you. But only one can be chosen. ...Cassandra Cage, I presume."

Shang Tsung nods once--it is the only indicator that he will give that everyone else should sit. Anyone who might make a ruckus will probably be bidden to do so more specifically by an armed guard, if they begin to disrupt the proceedings. But then again, Tsung has always had great faith in Earthrealm's capacity to kneel when bidden. For those who will not...

He does not approach Cage, respecting the boundary offered by the expanse of the floor between them. Instead, he elects to continue. It is entirely unclear if he knows what Wi-Fi is, or if he's just really good at seeming like he knows. "You would do well to learn as much as you can in the next moments, because I find history has a habit of cutting the tongues from those who don't. After all. The fate of your world hangs in the balance. And you have a name to live up to... don't you?" the snake grins.

"As for the rest. Please enjoy our hospitality, and bear witness to what the future may bring. The gods may favor Earthrealm, but even they are bound by rules and limitations. You will understand in time that we... are not. Without further delay, allow me the pleasure of introducing ... Reptile."

The sorcerer opens a hand. "Let the battle begin."
....but the arena is still empty?

As soon as she's acknowledged, Cassie continues her path forward, reaching back behind her to undo the clasps holding her dual pistols into their holsters. Whatever emotions she might be feeling regarding all of this grand ceremony are left burried beneath a clean layer of bravado and self-importance that would be well at home on Johny Cage's own persona.

"You spend a whole lot of time working your gums without saying anything. You should try to get a Twitter account so that maybe you'll learn how to keep it short," Cassie retorts casually to all of the ominous soliloquy being put on offer by the host.

It doesn't take long before Cage finds her way into the cleared off section that stands as an obvious battle arena, only to look around as she finds herself to be the only occupant. "Hey, 'Great Leader,' did you go senile on us or something? Where's your champion at?"

COMBATSYS: Cassie has joined the fight here.

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Cassie           0/-------/------=|

The man only known as Cyrax doesn't volunteer. He knows better than to tempt fate currently. As the statue is settled down, the Lin Kuei steps back, watching as the stage is set for the first battle. Eyes flit toward the old sorcerer, watching him carefully.

And then a loud one steps up, clearly with more guts than respect. A small glower comes from the warrior toward the woman dressed like a theater usher. Clearly, he's not impressed at all. But he's all too content to let her take up the front and be the first to be made an example of, if Shang Tsung's reputation is as his Clan believes.

As for Cyrax himself? He settles back, doing his best to fade into the background and observe. After all, Lin Kuei know how to keep themselves hidden when necessary....Stealthful as the night....

Those sensitive to soul energy will get the first warning sign that someone, or something, is moving throughout the crowd. It moves like the wind, quietly weaving its way in and out of the crowd, stirring the fancy tailcoats of those used to wearing something of a more practical nature, sending a shudder through the delicate, diaphanous fabrics of the ladies. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the motion, other than that...
Well, here's a pattern: The 'wind' seems to be vacillating between the dais near Shang Tsung and the buffet table.

As Shang Tsung beseeches the audience for a brave soul to step forward, the wind had fallen still. The -presence- ceased to move.

Lotus had not volunteered. She, as with many others, stood in open opposition to Shang Tsung, declining to rise to the challenge. Her attention seemed much more focused upon the comestible clutched within her hands, more concerned about the day-to-day sustenance than the matters of grave import unfolding before her.

About five feet from the ground, the... space immediately beside Lotus begins to shimmer and shudder.
In the very next instant, the turkey leg disappears, leaving behind only a faintly coruscating ripple in the air, not unlike the heat waves which rise from a barbecue grill.

There were no further disturbances. No other motion -- it is as if the disturbance was a mere fluke, a trick played by Shang Tsung or, more likely, one of his lackeys.

All, until the moment in which Cassandra Cage defiantly calls out her challenge to a completely unrelated figure. Whoever this... Lo Pan is, is surely of much less renown than the exalted Shang Tsung.

Whenever Shang Tsung announces his fateful words to begin the tournament, there are seconds of pregnant silence. Those sensitive to such matters will be able to feel the intensity building, not unlike a thunderstorm in the distance, building to crescendo. The air pulses, the deafening thrum of a heartbeat in the midst of breaths held in anticipation.

On one such heartbeat, the wind hisses back. "Ssssssilence!"

On the very next heartbeat, two hands snake outward from the rift in space, the shadowy and ephemeral image of a body barely visible in the coruscating air behind them. A ball of green acid drips between the hands, coagulating into a rough and pulsating sphere.

In the next instant, three things happen.
The rift in time and space closes.
The ball of pure, concentrated acid rushes outward, as if falling downhill rather than in a perfect horizontal line towards Cassie Cage.
And the bone of a turkey leg thuds dully against the floor of the throne room, stripped bare of all its flesh and fatty tissue.

The presence is on the move once again -- a presence detectable not by the visual senses, but only by those sensitive to the flows of worldly or life energy. To those treasured few, the presence of the predator is now an unmistakable beacon. The predator... is closing in upon Cassie.

The force ball threatens to impact her hard, the acid threatening to cling to her flesh and make for a sorry fightagram picture -- if and -when- she can broadcast such evidence to her doting fanbase.

COMBATSYS: Cassie just-defends Reptile's Toxic!

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Cassie           0/-------/------=|

Lotus blinks as she goes to take another bite, only to find her food.... gone? Tears well in her eyes, and she slips to a sit pouting cutely....

Until she remembers she has an entire plate of turkey legs next to her!

She goes from OMGSOSAD! to YAYFOOD! in less than 2 seconds, munching another leg happily as she watches. She'll just kill him later..... or something. FOOD AND BLOODY VIOLENCE! best combination!

It's been a strange trip...strange people. Even stranger location. The motifs and architecture are familiar, but for a man who's been around the world as much as Major Charlie Nash has been, he can pick out the parts that are just off enough to get a good sense of how...alien this Island is.

Having yet another invitation piled onto his desk, the Major was suspicious...perhaps someone trying to get him out of the way. However, something in his gut told him this was something he shouldn't ignore...and after arriving, in light of...negotiations he's already been embroiled in, that seemed like the correct choice.

The Major was silent for the most part since the arrival of the 'sorcerer', their host. Even with the strange atmosphere, Charlie was wary and observant enough to pick out a few things...particularly a face that was already on his radar....a face that apparently is on everyone's radar now as she steps up boldly to be the first volunteer for this "Mortal Kombat" deal. "Dammit, soldier," he mutters under his breath from his table. Seems like her dossier wasn't lying about impulses. Especially when it becomes clear that whatever she'd been put up to had some kind of camouflage on, something even Charlie had a hard time tracking before...whatever it shot out makes its presence known. If Charlie wasn't paying attention before, he damn sure well is now.

And so Cassie Cage stands there alone at the center of attention, adjusting her fingerless gloves somewhat impatiently as she begins to blow a significant bubble. If this were a movie, the camera would be coming in around waist height on her with a faint filter over the screen to give it a very threatening appearance of some sort of creature coming in from behind. Cage would be slowly looking around, but clearly have her back pointed to the threat to show that she's completely unaware. Until a surge of motion sends the disgusting, acidic loogie flying at her with no hope of escaping it's terrifying corruption!

That all more or less happens, except for one thing. Cassie isn't just turning her head about so that she can look in front of her, the shiny material of the overly expensive shades means that she can pick up the occasional faint reflection of what's occuring behind her. While she might not have been able to notice the invisible threat, it does give her a moment to identify the threat of some approaching ball of danger.

There's no real time to think, only to react, and in a flash, Cassie pivots on a heel and throws her arms up in front of her defensively. It's not much, but perhaps they can keep the corrosive threat out of her eyes as it strikes with a giant green splash.

Except... most of the green seems to be an aura of bright green energy covering Cassie's entire body in a protective layer. It hangs about the younger Cage for a moment as even she looks surprised by this turn of events, but soon fades as she sees a clear opportunity to snare the advantage and rushes in, lunging for Reptile's arm, aiming to grab him by the wrist.

"Whoa, you're one UGLY motherfucker," Cassie snipes as she moves to hold the creature's arm up in the straight position, then slam the palm of her other hand into his elbow to try to bend the joint the wrong way before twisting to put her shoulder in and give whatever this thing is a flip to the ground.

COMBATSYS: Reptile is revealed!

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Reptile          0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0           Cassie

COMBATSYS: Reptile fails to interrupt By All Means from Cassie with Uppercut.

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Reptile          0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0           Cassie

Still seated where she has been throughout the proceedings, the girl covered head to ankle in a white cloak recoils slightly when Zach draws near. Lowering her face, her eyes are hidden, her right hand lifting from beneath her cape to pull her hood tighter and look away from him. Why was he singling her out for attention? She had done nothing but avoid attention the entire night.
When he speaks, the Ainu words coming awkwardly but generally understandably from his lips, she pauses, her head turning back toward him, hood nudged aside slightly to actually look at him with steel-blue eyes. "<< Nothing important. >>" she answers him in Ainu before pausing, her expression neutral. "English?" she asks after a moment, perhaps making an assumption based on appearances.
A nod of her head is directed back toward the fight already underway - some things simply demand increased attention, and the interactions playing out before the throne of Shang Tsung certainly merit that much. That their host's participant was there all along, unseen among them, certainly gives one cause to pause. What other details are going by unnoticed by those gathered?

The ball of acid was an opening salvo. A warning shot, delivered between warriors of honor, on a level playing field.
It would be the only warning that the young Sergeant would get.
And it appears to be all the warning she needed.

As the presence rushes towards the young woman from behind, the shimmering of space that heralds the Zaterran's approach becomes more and more obvious -- perhaps less so to the audience than to the centerpiece of Shang Tsung's grand stage. The acid splatters, its pale and sickly green evaporating under the superior pressure of the bright green aura emanating from Cassie's body.
The green light casts a hideous glow onto the translucent form of the predator charging in to attack -- an instant's warning to the fate which may befall her.

But no. The predator glides in low and fast. His uppercut was poised to strike her squarely in the breadbasket, just south of the lone button fastening the two halves of her black and crimson coat.

The Zaterran's optical camouflage falters, however, as the Special Forces sergeant's quick thinking allows her to snare him by the wrist, deflecting the arm's momentum outward and using it to aid in her reversal. The reptilian form comes to light, two slitted eyes narrowing as the masked visage glares back at Cassie in one terrifying moment of awed confusion.

Words can hurt, Cassie Cage.

But cracking the monstrous Saurian's arm at the elbow, using it as leverage to flip him onto his back, is likely to hurt quite a bit more. The lizardlike creature cursed with the uninspired epithet of "Reptile" hits the floor, loosing a shower of stones into the air.

This "Reptile" arches forward, back to his feet, his mannerisms resembling those of humans mostly in shape -- not in motions. A hiss is fired back Cassie's way as the creature rubs his elbow -- and with an audible *crack*, sets it back into place.

The reptilian eyes smolder -- his heartbeat yearning for kombat still.
He is unlikely to do more than hiss, as he raises his hands defensively, sidestepping in a wide and wary circle around Cassie. His prey has proven more difficult to reach than he suspected.

In preparation for her assignment to the Outworld Investigation project with the Special Forces, Cassie Cage had been given more than enough information to study about the potential threats she might find herself facing. Whatever data had been collected on the supposed 'Outworlders' had been relatively sparse, but it had been put together with every bit of info that could be had on the Darkstalkers that had begun to pop into existance.

Monsters were real.

The whole world knew that after Metro City.

The problem was that until last week, when she'd run into a humorless mountain of fur, muscle, and Russian stoicism, Cassie had never actually had to confront one of these monsters face to face. And despite the rather icy reception she'd received, the last fight had in fact been a "friendly" match for the cameras.

Whatever this Reptile thing was, Cassie knew for certain that this fight wasn't going to be something just for fun.

"Wow, I actually feel kind of bad for you," Cage starts as she raises her hands into a proper fighting stance, "I mean, not because I just busted up your arm, but because with a face like that before the fight, there's no way you're getting anybody to swipe right after I'm finished with you."

The taunt acts as the lead in to a proper maneuver as Cassie tries to press her advantage by closing in the distance, aiming to get around the guard with a hook from the side that should knock his skull around.

COMBATSYS: Reptile blocks Cassie's Back Punch.

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Reptile          0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0           Cassie

Zach smiles and looks a bit relieved when Nakoruru switches to English even as he meets her gaze with honest but curious eyes. The odds of him running into a SECOND Ainu fighter boggle Zach's mind for a moment. He nods once, looking grateful. "Or Japanese if you prefer. Learning Ainu has been a challenge," he admits. Then Reptile reveals himself, and Zach whirls to stare for a moment.

"I didn't even /feel/ him," Zach whispers, perhaps just loud enough for maybe Nakoruru to hear him. He glances at the young woman in front of him, then back to the Saurian. His eyes narrow as he looks Cage's opponent over. "...he's not human," he says, a bit of awe in his voice. "Or at least far enough from human that I wouldn't have known what to look for." He glances at Nakoruru. For that matter, something's not totally kosher about her, either. But she's not immediately hostile.

He extends a hand even as he is paying attention to the fight. "My name is Zach Glenn," he says politely. "It's nice to meet you."

Earthrealmers say the weirdest things. The revealed predator slinks backwards, its spine arching in ways that would give chiropractors nightmares, as the two slitted eyes stay focused upon the black-bowtied blonde. If his mask were not covering his nose and mouth, she might be able to sense some sort of confusion in the expression of the Zaterran. Why should she feel -bad- for him? This is Kombat, not a mating ritual...
... Swipe right? What in the Outworld is she talking about?!

Fortunately for the reptilian predator, instincts are a lot stronger than the confusing, discordant thoughts that the sergeant is attempting to put into his head. A forearm snaps up -- not the one which was injured in the earlier attack, but the other one. Cassie's knuckles glance against Reptile's armguard of leather and bone, jarring his arm backwards but failing to land against the skull she had aimed for. Cautiously, Reptile jogs backwards a half step, still hesitant about driving his advantage after the punishment he's already been dealt...

At least, that's what his body language reads.
Right up until the moment in which his spine snaps forward like the strike of a cobra. The Saurian lashes forward with a brutal strike, aimed at raking his inhuman claws in a diagonal strike against Cassie's abdomen. The cold-blooded humanoid is at a marked disadvantage in the fight already -- he aims to change this.

By swiping right.

COMBATSYS: Cassie blocks Reptile's Front Punch.

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Reptile          0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0           Cassie

Now that the Dancing Spider doesn't have to worry about being picked to fight, he focuses on fueling the engine. He doesn't go for the heavy looking foods but still, he's filling his plate and consuming. He's adopting an eat while you can because you may not get a chance to before your next fight.

He's not chi sensitive, he does however have sensitive ears so he's not sure what is going to happen until he hears the sound of a ball of acid being ejected and that's when he's aware of Cassie's opponent. Then he watches as the green energy stops it and the corrosive liquid hits the ground. The previous desire to eat is postponed and the food he was eating was placed back on the plate.

Aranha who up to now was keeping his own mouth in check sighs and mumbles under his breath in a combination of disgust and disappointment, "Yooo... We tryin' to eat, dawg."

From then on, Aranha is paying close attention. The potential information gathering possibility was just too important to waste... Besides, Aranha will probably take some of this food to his quarters later.

It doesn't help Repitle if he swipes right on Cassie, because he's pretty might an instant swipe left, unless he lied a whole lot in his profile picture. But considering how little interest he shows in talking, odds aren't good that he'd be able to write anything interesting enough to be worth the effort.

More importantly to the actual fight occuring in the here any now, Cage brings her forearm up to intercept Reptile's swipe at the wrist, managing to absorb most of the blow harmlessly, but far more importantly avoiding letting the beast get his claws in.

The wrist intercept is treated as a quick point of rotation as Cassie twists away so that for a moment the two are back to back, but then rushing away from the lizard to build some space between them. As she moves, the Special Forces operative grabs one of her pistols and then turns to line up a shot, taking in a sharp breath and holding it before she squeezes the trigger.

The sound of a gunshot is sharp enough to overwhelm any conversation at that moment. Pure lethality escapes on a bee line for the beast, the only possible saving grace being that she went for his leg instead of center mass.

COMBATSYS: Reptile blocks Cassie's Blood Stain.

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Reptile          0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0           Cassie

Reptile grimaces behind his mask, the facial expression only obvious in the scales folding around his eyes as his wrist is snared yet again. Irritation boils over in him, obvious even without words, but his commitment to the blow was much less than before. Cassie makes for wily prey, and she has earned his full attention, as he seeks to block out the cacophany of voices milling about.

Though he does take note of someone in the audience suggesting that he is trying to eat... dog. Dog would be -delicious- right now.

That will have to wait, though, for as Cassie swivels around, Reptile moves with the motion in silent solidarity with the notion of putting some distance between the two. Close they may have been, but matches made in Outworld rarely if ever work out. Especially when the very next stage of the relationship involves gunfire, brought down upon his leg.

With lightning-quick reflexes, Reptile's leg snaps upwards, the bullet careening off his metal shinguard with the scent of burning leather and gunpowder. Reptile is forced to hop backwards with the quick deflection, but he shakes his head -- dazed slightly.

The air around him pulses, throbs with a sudden distortion, matched by his heartbeat drawing to a halt. For a moment, Reptile is visible where he was -- frozen.
The very next moment, Reptile is surging forward, closing the distance to Cassie in the blink of an eye in another dramatic reversal of his communicated intention. This time, he lunges outward, aiming to rake his left palm across Cassie's upper torso, before slamming his right palm into her with a reversed strike.

Should he land both strikes, he would aim to further rush her backwards, grabbing her by both shoulders and forcing her to backpedal, if she doesn't hope to get bowled over. The mask flies off -- and Cassie will realize how dramatically she -underestimated- how repulsive the Zaterran's face could truly be. Rows of needle-sharp teeth are brought to light.
She should likely be more concerned about the toxic acid spewing out from his mouth, seeking to sear her face and fine clothing. He would abuse the hold, prolonging the agony and increasing the toxic exposure -- and only then would he finally invert her, slamming her down onto the ground, face-first.

The sorcerer settles back into his seat, having ascended and taken his place some time ago. Now that the younger Cage has someone else to occupy her attentions, Shang Tsung is quite content to rest, and have his goblet filled by an exotic beauty from a lost paradise far, far from here. He is quite comfortable with the position of a king at his throne, and a regal bearing outlies the ostentaciousness of the entire gathering.

However, a puppet ruler he will never be, and sharp eyes take stock of everything that happens below. Many of the patrons here are comfortable with satisfying their appetite, at least until blood and all manner of other such fluids start splashing here and there. The metallic scent must clash with the spice. Well, there is no room for faint stomachs in the world they are about to enter.

For Aranha's own merit, one of those exotic bronze-skinned women wearing not much more than silkwrap and veils offers him a refill of his drink with his discarded meal graciously. Maybe she was one of the dancers? It's hard to tell. A lot of them look alike, the color of their silk notwithstanding. She doesn't say anything. Sometimes it's all in the body language.
A lot of it is in the body language, with women like that.

The Lin Kuei seemed amenable to the cause. There was a limited delegation, but Shang Tsung knew potential allies when he saw them. He would see to it that Cyrax was handled very, very well over the course of his stay here. Just another of the demon's endless courtesies.

The Ainu--for he knew intimately all of the peoples of the Earthrealm--were making themselves comfortable. It seemed almost inevitable that one or more of them would begin to plot against him. In league with the military? It seemed unlikely... but maybe there's something more. Maybe he sees more than he lets on, and the relentlessly casual glance the sorcerer spares them seems something far and away from menacing. But as for the unearthly chill that seems to accompany his finely oiled look, there's nothing more to be said about that. In due time.

For all that is and all that will be, the lion's share of Tsung's attention is commanded by the fight. He sips at his goblet, a grossly decorated and moulded golden thing, with all of the absence of a man subsumed by a deeper lust. The military was stronger than he'd given credit. But Tsung hardly seems angry at the rate of the exhibition. He anticipates. And consequently with the saurian's brutality, he is pleased. Fingers tap the edge of his armrest idly.

All goes according to his plan.

COMBATSYS: Cassie interrupts Ravenous from Reptile with Nut Kracker.

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Reptile          0/-------/------=|=======\-------\0           Cassie

Zach finds himself being studied further as he persists in lingering near the quiet, hooded girl. He is the most forward individual she has met at the gathering thus far and initially, she seems unsure how to handle that. For herself, she gives off no particular fighting vibe whatsoever, content to sit meekly and observe the event and be left in peace if that were to happen. But now that she has company, she is hardly standoffish, listening to him as he speaks, offering a touch of a smile, "It is a good effort." she offers regarding his attempts to expand his language horizons.
As he notes the appearance of the previously hidden kombatant, she turns her head enough to shift her eyes back toward the fight, "Is that... unusual for you?" responding to his quiet musing, perhaps thinking herself still addressed as her own volume is not particularly high when she speaks. "Look for?" she asks with a blink. "Is it not obvious?" There are some less than subtle visual cues after all.
Zach extends his hand and offers his name and the gesture gets looked at for a moment before she glances up again at him with a hint of uncertainty in her eyes. "American?" She extends her own hand after a moment, seemingly familiar enough with the greeting, her mouth as she speaks her name only for her voice to be more than drown out by the loud report of Cassie's firearms! Retracting her offer, she pauses to look back toward the fight, seeming to withdraw even further behind her hood, her face hidden but for her chin as she remains quietly in her seat.

Without aiming for a kill shot, there were only really two main goals with Cassie bringing the gun into play. The first was the potential to disable the limb, which would put this strange creature down and out (or at least in a position where should could end the rest of this relatively quickly). The second option was to force him to hold off long enough for her to get a good idea of just what he was planning while buying her some room to breathe.

With the leg protection coming into play and keeping Reptile from dropping to the ground with only one leg to stand on, it's still enough to get the second option as it momentarily staggers the creature's forward progress long enough for Cassie to reholster her pistol and bring her guard up.

And from there it's less a matter of just how much speed that Reptile can work up so much as it is an opportunity for Cassie Cage to see the entirety of what's happening without having to transition through any points of readiness inbetween. As Reptile charges, Cage is already in motion toward the floor. The first claw manages to catch a glancing blow on her shoulder that tears through the jacket and leaves faint trickles over blood blooming up against the remains of her shirt, but the follow-up catches pure air as Cassie lands on her knees, cups both hands together...

...and then slams one home between the Outworlder's legs with a proper low blow.

"Whoa, gotta be careful there. It's just like Bob Barker says, you gotta spay or neuter your pets," Cage taunts, turning to quickly to offer a follow-up to the man on the throne, "Although, I guess when the guy tugging your leash was eligible for Medicare before the Price Is Right was on the air, he might not have gotten the memo."

"American," he confirms. "I'm usually a fair hand at situational awareness," Zach says evenly as he watches the fight. "That guy," Zach jerks his chin towards the Reptile, "Came out of the next best thing to nowhere." The fact that he did not catch the young woman's name goes unnoted for the moment as Cassie seems to be holding up her end of the fight well. He is silent for a moment before speaking up.

"I don't like the feel of this place," he finally admits. "It's... /off/ somehow."

A loud, abrupt giggle comes from Lotus as she watches the Cassie land a strong nutshot on her opponent. It's like something you see in a Three Stooges episode usually rather than a fight, and she can't help but clap evenly at Cassie having the nerve to try to pull it off, much less succeed so well.

There are a number of equally viable tactics that Reptile had expected the Earthrealmer to use against him. She could have expertly warded his attack off with the same inner aura from before. She could have avoided his blow entirely -- a female of her frame would certainly be nimble enough to do so. But no -- she has the gumption to stand against him.

As she drops low, Reptile grimaces. She is fast, but the... split. That's tactically unwise. -No- one in Outworld has used such an evasion against the Saurian in the past -- simultaneously putting themselves in harm's path as well as risking certain self-injury. Why would anyone -do- such a thing? It's got to put an enormous strain on the...

Reptilian eyes bulge outward as the Zaterran practically deforms -around- the two-handed groin shot.
There is most certainly a response. It is not a pleasant one, as the reptilian jaws spread wide, a high-pitched whine escaping his lungs.

Reptile lurches backward, unsteadily. His eyes wince shut. But in the violent upheaval of momentum, something spills out from a pouch on his waist sash -- a bright jade gemstone, about half the size of a clenched fist. Even in his weakened state, he makes a wild snatch for it, as if the gemstone were the embodiment of life itself, Cassie's insulting words drowned out by the blood pulsing through his panicked lizard brain.

He catches it. And the jade glow courses along his arm, innervating his arteries and veins. His inner anatomy glows with brilliant light, his skin practically transparent next to the light suffusing through his bloodstream.

The pain which was obvious moments before... disappears, as he clenches the gemstone tightly. The smoldering fire within his eyes rages hot. Glowing not red... but with jade green.

COMBATSYS: Reptile equips a glimmering Jade Soul Shard.

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[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Reptile [E]      0/-------/------=|=======\-------\0           Cassie

COMBATSYS: Reptile channels the strength of the killing fist.

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Reptile [E]      0/-------/------=|=======\-------\0           Cassie

Reptile roars, dropping close to the floor of the throne room in a move approximating the drop from Cassie. The shout is the closest thing to a positive emotion that has yet been demonstrated from the Zaterran: the exhilaration is obvious to anyone who's ever experienced an adrenaline high. This should -hurt-, considering what he just experienced -- especially since acid gushes outward, splattering across the throne room floor between himself and Cassie.

The truth is darker, though -- those sensitive to emotions will hear a -scream-, as if the knife was plunged through the knife of a virginal sacrifice at an unholy god. But even those without such keen senses will feel the pressure drop sharply -- only to explode outward with the force and volume of a thunderclap, three times in rapid succession.

A moment later, Reptile rushes forward with a burst of speed. His armored shinguard is aimed to slam into Cassie, regardless of whether she was fast enough to rise to her full height or not.
If he hits her? She will find out exactly what the Faustian bargain bought Reptile, as his sliding kick collides with the force of an avalanche, sweeping her towards the Dragon Statue which looms over the fight.

COMBATSYS: Reptile successfully hits Cassie with Slithered.

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Reptile [E]      0/-------/-----==|=======\===----\1           Cassie

...well, if anything else, Charlie is learning that he was right to try and scout Cage for the Program, even if some other Special Forces project seemed to poach her first. The girl is holding her own despite being up against...well, the only way Charlie can label the Reptile is as an aberrant, though as he's had pointed out before, that's far too broad a term to be useful after a point.

But his attention narrows as the Reptile snatches up something it spilled after the...obviously non-SFMAP technique it was struck by. Brow furrowing, he realizes it doing SOMETHING to it. Part of him is tempted to shout out to Cassie to tell her to stay on her guard, but that'd be a little insulting to her skill...not to mention bring down further unwarranted attention to the both of them, something the Major can't quite risk for now.

As the eerie screech seems to rip through the subconscious fabric of the world, the cruel demon sorcerer smiles, combing fingers through his beard. His satisfaction is very plain to see.

The Dahlia seems to have been taking her sweet time getting back to the shindig. To be honest -- there's a lot of people she'd rather not have 'accidentally' bumped into just then. And Zach seems to have been more than happy to spend time with the hooded Ainu woman who appears to be more interested in the fight going on than in helping him practice the aboriginal language, or in learning his.
The Akatsuki advisor may have something to say about that.

In all actuality, the Dahlia was patrolling the perimeter of Shang Tsung's court. She had much to investigate, and with the attention riveted upon the two kombatants, she had plenty of opportunity to realize those guards weren't going to let her.
The Akatsuki advisor probably won't have much at all to say about that.

Irritably, she walks back over to the gathering, approaching from the opposite angle from before, placing lots of other mean and capable fighters between her and the people who might happen to be on a first-name basis with Honoka Kawamoto.

If allowed, she will rest her hand on one of Cooper's shoulders, as he was nice enough to lean backwards at a precarious angle, putting himself at risk to any one of the miscreants stationed here. A foot taps against the foot of the chair, reminding him of such.
But such danger comes with a promise of reward -- two crisp hundred dollar bills, which would -also- be pressed against his shoulder.

"Wanna make two hundred bucks easy? Keep anyone else from talking to me for the rest of the night." A sly grin slides across her face, but any motion to simply claim the offered reward -now- would be met with quicker hands than the mercenary would be able to manage. Just an enticement, for now...

When the scream rolls out from the reptilian creature, though, Honoka winces visibly. The bills are drawn into her hand -- folded at first, and then crushed with the additional pressure her grip applies. She draws her fist to her lips -- revealing that her jaw, too, is wound tight. The triple thunderclap is barely noticeable -- her vision blurring as she focuses on the reality of what she just -felt- in every fibre of her being.

A quick breath is exhaled, as the Dahlia's equilbrium and half-amused manner returns to her. "Easy money, wouldn't you say?"
She hums musically, in spite of what's transpired. But all is not right, not by a long shot.

"You shouldn't." Zach's observations get a brief reply from the Ainu who seems to be getting used to his company. "It is." she adds with a faint frown, her face toward the battle, her eyes following the action, though occasionally coming to rest on the patron of this 'entertainment' himself. She's otherwise quiet, remaining in the seat she has occupied the entire time, her hands once more concealed beneath her cloak.
It is only when the Scaled One's hand seizes hold of a glimmering gemstone that she sucks in her breath, pushing herself up to her feet in obvious surprise. She needn't say a word - all the room can see the change that happens, Shang Tsung's representative bolting at Cassie with magnitudes more power than he had demonstrated thus far.
The attack delivered, Nakoruru remains standing for a few more moments before slowly sinking back into her seat, widened eyes visible from beneath her hood before she bows her head in thought.

Zach is turning to look the Ainu woman with a sharp expression when Reptile does... /something/. Zach's memory goes blurry for a second or two in both directions in the wake of the feedback from... /whatever/ it is that Reptile did. The American is so shaken that he almost, but not quite, finds the chair and slumps to the ground for a moment.

"...what," he asks numbly, "...I don't... what?"

As the scream erupts, Lotus smiiiiiiiiiles big. What power! what destruction! If these strange beings in this new place can pull out the stops more than even THIS.... just, wow!

Then she starts to wonder if Cassie will get melted into a puddle by the acid..... Slurpees for everyone!

The instant a foreign object comes into play, it's vital to determine its purpose and what sort of threat it poses. The fact that Reptile goes for the strange gem instead of moving back to a position to protect himself or recover tells Cassie that either he's got a real big case of greed or things are about to get troublesome.

"What the fuck is th-"

Cage doesn't get any further than that before "excitement" happens. The sudden surge of acid filling the area around the guy whose immediate area she happens to be in cuts her off as she flips backward and gets to her feet as fast as she can, wincing at the sudden tunderclaps that attempt to deafen he.

Considering just how much things appear to have escalated, Cassie is quick to try to get enough space between her and the creature that she can reconsider her options, but as she aims for a quick hop out of reach with a blur of motion, Reptile blurs right back in, giving her no room to duck back from the strike that catches her in the chest and sends her crashing along the floor quite painfully until she skids to a stop just shy of the looming statue, face toward the ground as she just lays there.

"*coffcaff* Shit, you hit like whatever truck ran over your face," Cassie manages as she pushes up to her elbows, leaving a spatter of blood on the floor beneath her with each cough, all centered on a bright red piece of bubble gum. Her sunglasses now hang from only one ear, the frame twisted wand one of the lenses shattered so that half of it is missing. As Cage gets back up to her feet, she tugs them away and discards the now useless eyewear on the ground before wiping the blood away from her lips with the back of her hand.

"One of these days I'm going to finish a fight without some asshole breaking my shades," Cassie offers just as she lunges back in, charging at the empowered creature, apparently unconcerned with the acid as she flows into a sliding side kick aimed for Reptile's jaw.

COMBATSYS: Reptile interrupts Front Kick from Cassie with Hybrid Krush.

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[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Reptile [E]      0/-------/---====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2           Cassie

The glow in Reptile's veins fades to some extent after his attack; his skin no longer appears to be translucent, lit from within by the fel power. His eyes remain the largest window into the accursed energy, dimmed only slightly by a nictitating blink as he returns to his feet. Poised like a serpent, he stands over Cassie, waiting for the smartaleck to rise back to her feet. Only when the woman peels the shattered sunglasses away from her face does he draw back to a safer distance, curling his claws before him defensively.

Once he sees that the eyewear poses no immediate threat to his well-being, Reptile patiently humors the Earthrealmer and her apparent need to deliver an optimal amount of sass. It is only a shame that the duty-minded servant of Outworld cannot fully express the appreciation that a truly sick burn like that would merit -- she will have to suffice with another mute blink of his nictitating eyelids.

He is, after all, focused more upon the actions than the words. The slippery coat of acid on the floor may prove to be an aid for Cassie, but it is also a membrane that the Zaterran knows well to expect. His elbow flares with an outpouring of green chi -- bearing the hue of his own acid, rather than that of the fel Soul Shard. His glowing elbow slams into Cassie's foot, absorbing some of the momentum of the blow and redirecting it downward. His upper torso pivots along with Cassie, allowing him to charge -past- her.

About four feet of travel beyond her, the Zaterran digs his feet into the throne room floor, sharply reversing direction. His momentum thusly coiled, it suddenly snaps back like a spring, hammering a folded elbow squarely into the small of Cassie's back. Reptile continues with the momentum, dropping one shoulder low, and following his elbow up with a powerful uppercut into the same location, aimed at propelling Cassie into the air.

With his reply to Cassie delivered so, Reptile reels backwards, throwing his hands out to either side with a satisfied hiss.

As Cassie takes the first hit that sends her spinning down toward the floor, the younger Cage lets out a sharp cry of pain that's quickly cut short as the rapidly moving Reptile slams her in the back so hard that the air is knocked out of her lungs with a heavy "wuff," leaving her with no air left to cry out as she's caught with the uppercut that sends her flying into an arc that ends with her hitting the floor with the sort of solid thump one would expect of a bag of grain more than any sort of living person.

The damage has clearly been done, with the buttons of her jacket gone, her short torn in multiple places. Her entire body is covered in small cuts where it isn't already preparing to form into blotchy bruises. It wouldn't take much more than a bit of makeup to take the color out of her skin for Cassie Cage to play the part of a corpse on Law and Order.

The Special Forces operator seems to struggle to get back to her feet. After the beating she just took, it's kind of a wonder that she doesn't just choose to lay down and let it all go. The fact that her life may be on the line probably provides some inspiration, but the fact that right now she wants to see this stupid old man's annoying goddamn monster get what's coming to it means a whole lot more.

Maybe that prick will stop smiling when his minion has a few broken bones.

"Alright, it looks like you need a lesson in why you don't piss off a Cage, and since William Shatner can work without a girdle, I guess I'll have to do it myself."

Cassie springs up to her feet, whipping out her baton as she does and immediately launches into a sideways swipe for Reptile's jaw with enough force to dislocate, twisting it back around into a swing for the back of his skull that should send him sprawling as she flips into a quick somersault that launches the toe of her boot into his chin and should set him right back on balance for a moment. As she springs back forward, there's now a lighter in one hand and with a single flick, the spark catches and sets off the flash powder in her other hand that's suddenly shoved into his eyes in an effort to blind. From there, it flows smoothly into Cassie going for a full Cage splits and slamming a vicious uppercut straight back into the creature's already damaged balls so that they may or may not exists afterward. Her hands slip back to grab hold of the dual pistols from their holsters, swinging them up by the barrel to either of Reptile's temples in a clear effort to see how much damage his skull can withstand, then quickly twisting them about in her hands to unload both guns into the monster's shoulders.

COMBATSYS: Reptile channels the fortress of the steel will.

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Reptile [E]      0/-------/---====|>>>>---\-------\0           Cassie

COMBATSYS: Reptile endures Cassie's Caged Rage.

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Reptile [E]      1/-------/=======|>>>>---\-------\0           Cassie

Cassie's name-dropping has no real sign of recognition as anything but a basic threat, much as it has for the rest of the fight. Silly humans, pop culture references are for Earthrealm kids! The operative's hostile actions garner a much more suitable response, though, as the Zaterran's mouth closes into a grin. Well, inasmuch as needle-sharp teeth the length of Cassie's fingers can really represent a -grin-.

The real problem, however, is the jade Soul Shard. As his spine pitches forward once again, he grips the shard with both hands, his fingers glowing with the fel energy. His brow creases, and his green glowing eyes flare up once again. The change in his body is much different this time though -- an outward blossom of the green energy from the shard, and then a sudden -collapse- of said energy. Instead of a triple thunderclap, a sound not unlike the grating of iron gates across coarse concrete can be heard.

His skin flares, but 'cools' rapidly, turning ashen and grey. Those attuned to the souls of the undead will recognize a key difference in the timbre of the sound -- it sounds more like a keening wail in a cyclonic wind -- and they will also sense three spirits rushing outward from the stone, mimicking Reptile's pose as they phase backwards to overlap him.

When Cassie's baton swings outward for his jaw, Reptile does not move to avoid it, that same rictus not-quite-grin plastered upon his face. He sways with the blow, only slightly -- but rather than experiencing the soft, pliant give-and-take of scaled skin, the baton will feel is more it's trying to stir through freshly poured concrete.

The second blow will deliver Cassie a bit more satisfaction in the form of a bone-jarring crack that does, indeed, send him flying backwards. The somersault rights him -- so far, aside from the hardened skin, he doesn't appear to actually -weigh- more...

The lizard man will indeed find himself blinded, shutting his eyes reflexively as he reels backwards from the blow.

When the Saurian gets ripped from below by another uppercut, he will fold like a jacknife -- setting him up perfectly for the pistols to crack upon his head.

And still, there is a 'grin' on the Zaterran's face. No longer glowing green, but stone grey, he knows how much that -could- have hurt... and didn't.

His shoulder armor shatters from the pistol shots, bone and steel alike decimated by the blow and crashing onto the floor instants later. His prized armor, the product of years of accumulation over numerous battle victories, is torn asunder from the shockwave stirred up by the two pistols -- the leather tattered.

Even with the mitigation of the number of the jade Soul Shard, Reptile's stance sags. He drops to his knees, that grin faltering just a smidge.

And yet, with a pant of exertion, he rises to his feet against all odds. His nostrils flare, as he takes a step forward...

From this point, Cage has Tsung's full attention. He knows that the youth is growing all the more frustrated--and determined to put an end to this demonstration in her full favor. Fortunately, Reptile had the shard, itself being something that tilted the battle to the extent that the demon was confident that there could only be one outcome. As the Special Forces agent expends herself brutally against the saurian's guard, it is noticeable that Shang Tsung has risen to his feet again.

From his sleeve he produces another of the glittering jewels, this one a deep red. It floats in his hand, and then, by apparent force of pure will alone, a dark emerald wind churned to life in his palm fires the jewel with bullet force into the statue not far from the two fighters.

When the shard strikes the jade surface, it does not chip or shatter. To the contrary--it hits the surface and then submerges, the jade's surface rippling like a disturbed lake. A terrible howl fills the throne room as lightning crackles across the innards of the statue, causing the translucent surface to glow across the branching veins throughout the myriad imperfections in the hand-cut surface.

A moment later, the jade serpent comes to life.

All in an instant, the serpentine dragon winds sinuously around its basalt post, hissing in an otherworldly fashion. Some manner of sorcery has perverted it--something in addition to the power that Reptile has displayed thus far. The serpent snarls, and lashes, but is ultimately bound to its post, a vicious and hungry thing with stone-cut jaws. Anything close to it will likely die.

The sorcerer knows the saurian has one opportunity to realize his advantage. Shang Tsung's voice is as commanding as it is vicious. "Now! FINISH HER!!"

COMBATSYS: Dragon Statue gathers its will.

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Reptile [E]      1/-------/=======|>>>>---\-------\0           Cassie

Zach would hear a whipping of cloth, a rush of air displaced at his side as the quiet, cloaked figure is suddenly gone, the white and crimson cloak she had been concealed beneath left to drape against the now empty seat.

A sound of steel on stone screeches briefly through the chamber followed by the last defiant thundering of a storm abated. Behind the statue Nakoruru leans low and forward, feet apart, her right out at her side with a short blade held in a reverse grip, its steel surface still crackling with the last vestiges of the power that had been coursing through the jade serpent an instant before. The statue itself cracks, green chips falling to the floor with a clatter, until finally the top half of it slides roughly, toppling over and shattering against the hard ground.

Slowly, the young woman stands up straight. She is clothed in a long white robe that nearly covers down to her crimson moccasin-clad feet, the borders of her attire decorated with an intricate geometric red and blue pattern.

"Just because Earth's Advocate is not here does not mean the terms of engagement can be so easily trampled upon!" Smoothly, she flexes her right arm, moving the shimmering blade out to her side before sliding it slowly into a sheath worn horizontally behind her waist until it is fully secured.

"Did you think that you could get away with eliminating one of Earth's champions with this distracting show of yours, sorcerer?"

She glances from the magician toward the the floor of the room where the sanguine gemstone has come to rest, still sparkling with the promise of untold power. "She doesn't even have her gift... yet you would already stoop to fraud and deceit?"

Clasping her hands together, the raven-haired warrior bows her head slightly, eyes closing briefly, before she shifts her focus to the Zaterran to make sure that he was not following through on Shang Tsung's last command. "Surely this was merely an oversight... but it can also serve as a warning..." Turning toward the host, she shakes her head once, hands clenching at her sides. "This demonstration has run its course."

As Shang declares for Reptile to 'Finish her!', Lotus has all her attention on the spectacle. What will this guy do to her? What will the 'host' potentially do? what will everyone ELSE do!? She is on the edge of her seat!

The sudden flurry of activity at Zach's side, and then at the statue, provides the psion with a couple of touching points for his mind to grab onto. He looks up at the statue, then at the Ainu woman, then at the sorcerer. It's apparent that he's not yet firing on all cylinders, but he's present enough to find his feet again, followed by his determination.

Zach gets himself into something that somewhat resembles a ready stance, as his right hand flexes open, then closed a couple of times.

Reptile's forward motion halts at the interruption, his body shuddering with anxiety. He -would- have followed through. Honest. But the fire burns away from his eyes, as the ashen color gradually fades away, his body returning to its normal colors -- amidst the discolored bruises showing that Cassie's strikes -did- indeed land through his soulforged defenses. His nostrils flare as he glances back unsteadily between Nakoruru and Shang Tsung...

Weariness forces him, however, to take a knee while he awaits an ultimatum.

What the hell is that Gem and how does it let this guy keep standing up and hitting so hard?

With Reptile somehow staying on his feet and even pushing his way back toward Cassie, the younger Cage is left in a moment of sheer unrelenting disbelief. But even more than that is that lingering thought crawling up from the very depths.

It would have been better if Johnny was here.

Everything she had, Cassie had put into this fight. Even after doing things she didn't know were possible, Cas's only option left at the moment seemed to be to try to put every last bullet she had left into the creature, but Johnny would have just gone right in and found a way.

And then the sorceror brings the statue to life and makes his intentions known.

"Ah, fuck..."

Both guns suddenly turn toward Shang Tsung. He's the big boss, cut off the head and all that. Hopefully he wasn't immune to bullets.

Before Cage can test this theory, however, a third party intercedes. One of the people from out in the tables, apparently some girl with a similarly out-of-touch style of dress steps forward, apparently on her behalf. Whoever she is, she apparently makes some pretty solid reinforcements, considering the way everything begins to slow down.

"Wait, what do you mean by 'Champion?' I appreciate the fact that nobody is supposed to be killing me right now, but what's the deal with Saruman here?"

Shang Tsung's wait is not very long. Though he stands by with baited breath to see first blood drawn, the fatal end he'd had in mind for the young Cage is dashed to ribbons--literally, as the black-haired Ainu cuts into--and through--the jade dragon which had, for a moment, promised a fatality and a very, grisly end. Jade smashes against marble, scattering glittering shards across his throne room.

"...ah, a mild oversight," the sorcerer agrees, soulless eyes resting on the sanguine jewel between them. "You'll have to forgive. After so many years of winning in Kombat, we are eager to begin the proceedings."

The sorcerer does not miss a beat, descending from the dais, his robes ghosting over the floor as he moves. His movements are calm, and each step he takes is a gunshot in the piercing silence that follows the protest. His fingertips touch together briefly, forming some sort of sutra, ostensibly to enhance his inner calm. Ostensibly. "It's been some time since we've seen a change from Raiden's characteristic histrionics, after all. It's been some time since we've seen other things, as well." Shang Tsung adds, looking directly at Nakoruru.

"We merely seek, after all, a fair and agreeable resolution to the affairs set in motion, here. You wouldn't want the vast armies of Outworld to pursue alternative means, after all?" He laughs lightly, gently. As he does so, he picks up the red jewel, still swirling with its promises of untold power, rolling the valued thing between his fingers. Slowly, he offers it to Cassie, as she asks what the deal is. "As much as you could find an able place amongst my grove of concubines and servants, I fear that you are amongst the best and brightest Earthrealm has to offer. Please, accept my deepest regrets, and reparations in form of an early taste of the power that the elder gods have seen to bestow upon all who will take up the challenge. One use is enough to bind it to you. I promise that you will find it deeply useful."

The red jewel is a decidedly different color from the one that Reptile was using, and though it glows with dark force and promise, Shang Tsung may as well be trying to hand the young operative a live cobra.

"...Yeah, just a second," Cassie says as she's approached by the ancient sorceror, reholstering her pistols and then raising a finger extended upward. With no hesitation, she turns toward one of the tables and starts picking up the various items of servingware available, dumping everything in them out onto the floor with the sort of force that seems intent on trying to get some of it on Shang Tsung's robes.

Eventually Cage settles on one of the wine pitches, which she very definitely tries to splash at the sorceror's feet as she empties it out with no grand attempt to hide the poor acting involved.

"Yeah, so you can put the Ring in here, I'm just going to take this home with me. If you want to complain, you can pay for the repairs on the outfit," Cassie offers in an annoyed tone before adding on, "Oh, and those sunglasses were $400."

The meddler takes in a breath as Shang Tsung descends the steps, finally setting foot on the same ground as the rest of the company gathered here. Without the opportunity to act on sheer empowered adrenaline, the fight has left the green scaled kombatant, bringing an end to the battle between the two representatives even if one had no idea what she was being put up to. Yet the sorcerer himself is still hale in spite his timeless appearance. Will decrees from powers not present here truly stay his hand?

On reflex, Nakoruru lifts her right arm, bent at the elbow, held at an angle that would make it trivial to reach for the sheathed kodachi at her back. It is more gesture than an act of true intimidation... But if everyone else fought as well, what would be the outcome? But the Outworlder's threats are not the power coursing through his ancient blood, or in summoning another champion to the floor, but in his words and promises. Slowly, the young warrior lowers her hand back to her side.

"Where is he, anyway?" she asks pointedly as Raiden's name slips casually from the man's lips. "How could the Thunder God possibly not be present?" She turns to the side, looking away after a moment, realizing any response she would possibly get would hardly be a real 'answer'.

Attention falls on Cassie as the blood red gemstone is offered, "It should not be on me to explain any of this. Sorry," she offers, glancing between Shang Tsung and Cage, before shaking her head and stepping away. "But I will warn you that that every word he utters conceals ulterior motives, most of them designed to ensnare you."

Nakoruru strides back to the chair she vacated, passing by Zach as she retrieves the cloak she discarded in her haste to intervene. Folding the cloth over her right arm, she pauses, glancing over her shoulder to see that Cassie Cage is already savvy enough to not touch the offered stone herself. A faint smile crosses her lips before she looks away and continues forward, confident there would be no one stopping her from leaving now.

Shang Tsung's mood is more than a little curdled when Cassie manages to get the food and wine everywhere but in her mouth, including on his robes. But as always, he is the very mannered image of complaisance and grace, even in the face of the most boorish composure. "...Of course," he responds agreeably, as Cassie continues making a mess of things.

"Raiden and the usual champions from the White Lotus could not be present this time around," he responds to Nakoruru, spending more attention on his robes than Nakoruru. He doesn't even look in her direction. "It's a shame when even your greatest proponents abandon the cause in your hour of greatest need. Fortunately, there is no need for such disruption in our austere tournament, no matter what prejudices the Ainu seems to hold against our learned conduct. And if you wish a new outfit, I could have one sent to your quarters for the night. Ah, please, allow me."

He lifts up the jewel in four fingers, dangling the sorcerous shard over the decanter. He holds it there for a moment.. and very plainly moves his hand three inches to the left before dropping the precious shard in a puddle of pooled wine at Cage's feet, the inner light from the shard reflecting through the pool. "Ah. My apologies. I'm not as fit as I was when I was your age, after all." He never bothers to pick it up again.

Then he moves to leave, stepping past Cassie fluidly, while gesturing for the wounded Reptile to clear and follow. That would seem to be that, until a thought strikes the sorcerer. He dusts at his robe absently. Then he leans in closely, and whispers. His voice is a snake's hiss in her ear, equal parts seductive, inviting, and menacing. Words meant only for her, and words he would very likely deny if brought up again.

"...and these robes cost the lives of twelve men."
He seems content to take his leave, provided he is not stopped.

Aranha's quiet throughout the proceedings finding it more useful, at least for the time being, to gather information. There was a reason that 'Earthrealm' humans were given two eyes, two ears and only one mouth after all. From what he can see, the mouthy gun wielder is a very dangerous with both her fists and her firearms. And when that low blow came he found himself subconsciously crossing his legs.

The gem that the lizard creature becomes a game changer and suddenly the fight turns around. Once again, he mutters to himself, "Must be their version of PEDs."

It isn't until he sees the gem fly from the sleeve that the Dancing Spider tenses up, even in spite of the weird creepy feelings he's been getting from the fight even if he wasn't a chi sensitive. It was at that moment that he knew that the potential for outside involvement in even his matches was possible. Thankfully, Earth's representative also has someone intercede on her behalf slashing the statue and letting the top half smash down into the floor.

With the dramatic interruption, the life was sucked out of the fight. After seeing Cassie make her displeasure known in the massive mess she was making he looks on as the sorceror whispers something in her ear and moves to take his leave. Aranha gets ready to do the same, putting some food on the plate to eat later when his appetite recovers from seeing Reptile's acid loogie.

He mutters under his breath, "Fair and agreeable, my ass."

A number of things transpire that certainly do not escape the notice of the Scarlet Dahlia. The jade Soul Shard is of most peculiar interest to the psion -- the source of its power, particularly. In the midst of a room full of unfamiliar people, the energy trapped within the prismatic gemstone was not even detectable. Unleashed in such a dramatic outrushing of power, however, to tilt the scales of battle back in favor of the reptilian predator...
The potential is intriguing, to say the least.

The Scarlet Dahlia continues to watch, captivated. Surely, she can sense that others of her caliber noticed the change that took place, but she relies not on their skill, but her own. She focuses entirely upon the shifting tides of the fight, putting all other matters out of her mind for the moments that follow. She did offer to pay for that luxury, after all.

As the waves of soul-forged energy wash over Reptile like an avalanche, the Scarlet Dahlia shudders in place. A very slight smile tugs at the corners of her lips: anticipation for the potential that such an innocuous trinket could spell in a life-or-death battle.

And for a moment -- the stakes really -are- that high, until the mysterious Ainu she spoke with earlier unveils a taste of what -she- has in store for the enigmatic host of the island.

The moment of maximum tension passes, dispelled by the tink-tink of a blood-red crystal against the palatial floor. The Scarlet Dahlia exhales a breath she hadn't realized she was holding in, spellbound by the dynamic show of force, and the waves receding in its wake. One thing becomes apparent to the Dahlia, as the Ainu tusukur quietly winds her way amongst the taller members of the crowd: Things just got a little more interesting.

COMBATSYS: Reptile has left the fight here.

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Cassie           0/-------/---<<<<|

It's with an almost disinterested passivity that Cooper regards the entire fight, about halfway through he's pulled out one of his boomerangs and has begun using it to clean his nails. Really, the mercenary really doesn't know how to behave well at all in a place like this, or else he doesn't even care at this point.

Even the temporary interruption in his grooming by Honoka is met with only the slightest grumble as she touches him. But the slight shifting of the angle of the weapon in his hand and the shift of one leg shows he's not as passive as he appears. Ready to retaliate should that touch turn into something more..

Money. That's a different issue.

Two hundred. A sum that for the most part would be insulting for a night of bodyguard work, especially considering the attendees at this particular gathering. Part of him is tempted to take it, just because it's on offer, the other part.. Well, he has standards. But then the fight progresses to where he can no longer ignore it, and he's glad to have not moved to the offer as his eyes remain fixed on the right between Cassie and the.. reptile thing. He had to wonder how potent the venom in that creature must be.

But more, he wants that jewel. And with the red now resting so casually on the ground, he doesn't seem to care which. Not even for the power, he's not entering into a contract with anyone without knowing the bargain, but the black market price on such a thing would be astounding. He's practically salivating at the thought, even if he knows he couldn't get his hands on it at the moment, it certainly makes for a reason to stick around.

...well, that certainly wasn't what Charlie expected to come of that statue after it was carried out there. Things looked bleak for Cassie, what with the advantage of whatever doping the 'Reptile' had, but he wasn't convinced it was going to come of much yet, until that thing came alive. And Shang Tsung's command only underscored the danger.

Jumping up to his feet, the Major was ready to jump in himself...until the mysterious hooded girl beat him to the punch, able to draw things down before someone lost their head. That doesn't mean Charlie is about to relax though, making his way over carefully at the proceedings.

WHen the sorcerer takes his leave, Charlie approaches both the Special Forces officer, as well as the mysterious girl, appraising the figure in white and red. "I'd thank you for intervening, except I'm still not sure just what the hell went down there."

COMBATSYS: Cassie has left the fight here.

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Log created on 20:49:49 09/01/2016 by Shang Tsung, and last modified on 02:22:39 09/29/2016.